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How Recovery Crafted a Better Mom

by Will Long

May 3, 2022
Woman braiding young girls hair

Mothers can struggle with drug or alcohol addictions, but help is available

Life can sometimes feel like a tangled and messy knot of relationships, setbacks, and disappointments, especially to mothers who are struggling with a drug or alcohol addiction. But if you’re willing to stick it out, the best is yet to come. Rachel Washington is proof of that. Her harrowing tale of addiction and redemption is a testament to the restorative power of recovery. Washington’s journey resembles that of the heroes we read about and watch. It’s the story of a mother who wanted to be better and found the strength to achieve her goal.  We’re honored that Washington allowed Landmark Recovery to share her story as a tribute to mothers everywhere.

Washington suffered from differing degrees of addiction for 19 years. She lost custody of her daughter and nearly lost her life. She began her path to recovery on October 10, 2013. Since that day, her life has changed in incredibly positive ways as everything that was once slipping from her grasp came full circle back to her. She now has full custody of her daughter Kaylynn and is an adoptive parent to Kaylynn’s half-sister, Daphne. Today, Washington helps others find a path to recovery, serving as executive director at Praxis of Carmel by Landmark Recovery.

Woman hugging her high school graduate daughter

Addiction Steals Motherhood

Washington started abusing alcohol and smoking cigarettes in high school. When she became pregnant with her daughter at 19, she stopped drinking until after giving birth to Kaylynn. But a return to substance abuse quickly spiraled into opioid abuse, beginning with 30mg pills of Percocet. Things got worse as her addiction to Percocet became an addiction to Oxycontin, a far more powerful drug. She felt like the pills give her a sense of control, but she found herself stuck in a liminal state that stole valuable time and moments she could have otherwise experienced as a sober mother. Washington found herself needing an Oxy pill or fentanyl patch before doing anything with or for her daughter.

“They helped me feel more in control, like I was doing better at work,” Washington said. “But addiction steals motherhood.  You just have to have drugs before you feel like doing stuff with your kids.”

At one point, her addiction to opioids was so bad that she was abusing 72-hour intravenous fentanyl patches that would almost cost her life. Washington overdosed on fentanyl while Kaylynn was locked out of her mom’s room. Kaylynn managed to fashion a lockpick out of a wire hanger, got in the room, and told Washington’s roommate at the time to call for help. Paramedics soon arrived to take her to a hospital. While riding in the ambulance, Washington’s vision started turning black and narrowed. She survived and was later released from the hospital.

“I came home and walked back in right past my daughter’s room to do the thing that almost cost me my life again. I didn’t even say hello or acknowledge her. I just walked right past her room,” Washington reflected. She quoted Bill Wilson and the Alcoholics Anonymous big book when describing her condition at the time, “An alcoholic is an unlovely creature.”

A Daughter Left Adrift

Child Protective Services (CPS) got involved and Washington was given an ultimatum: sober up or you’ll lose custody of Kaylynn. It was then legally mandated that she had to pass drug tests. She couldn’t stay clean and began faking the results with other urine. CPS officials became suspicious. After a time, she just simply stopped going to the test appointments. For this, CPS sent Kaylynn to a foster home, with only a small backpack full of toys. Kaylynn’s foster guardian threw the toys away as they were deemed “too nasty” to keep around and she was left adrift.

With her daughter in foster care (custody was eventually given to her paternal grandparents), Washington made a conscious effort to stop using opioids. She would call her daughter and share dreams of being free from addiction and living on a vast horse farm in Nicholasville, a place they both considered a kind of “Utopia.” Eventually her need for cash got the better of her and she began selling heroin and using opioids again; her probation officer knew the whole time and she was arrested.

Regaining Control Through Recovery

When the judge presiding over her case recommended rehab, Washington signed a treatment deal that sent her to the Women’s Healing Place in Louisville, Kentucky. Normally a program that lasts up to 12 months, Washington was in the program for 18 months, but the treatment she received saved her life as everything changed for the better. She was free from the chains of addiction. She moved into an apartment that had two bedrooms: one for her and a vacant one for the then 14-year-old Kaylynn who no longer lived with her.

For two and a half years after beginning her recovery journey, Washington would call and write to her daughter and attempt to rebuild the bridges she thought she had burned before finding treatment.

“When she got a place, she told me that I would always have a room there,” Kaylynn said.

“Eventually I moved in when the time was right. We had our ups and downs, but now we have a great relationship. I feel like I can talk to her about anything, and she’d always be there for me. Her being sober has changed our relationship a lot for the better.”

Washington had finally regained control over her own life and won the battle against addiction that took her many years to fight. “If you build it, they will come,” Washington said about her efforts to regain her daughter’s trust and rebuild her relationship with her. Picturing what her life could be played a big part of how she beat addiction to become who she is today. From her point of view, all mothers have a special connection to their children. When talking to her daughter, it becomes clear that this special connection is reciprocated.

“If there is anything I want moms to know, it’s that your children will always love you no matter what,” Kaylynn said. “They will probably have some resentments about something, but they will always know that you love them if you stay sober and make sure you are there for them. They will trust you and let you in again.”

“We’ve been on each other’s team, cheerleading for each other,” Washington said. “Recovery made me a better mother, absolutely. It’s also taught me more tolerance and to be more accepting. It’s given me new perspectives.”

Addiction Isn’t Forever

For those who struggle to see the light at the end of the tunnel, Kaylynn says, “Addiction isn’t forever. People can change and will if they want to. I know for a fact they can and will. My mom is the most amazing person that I have ever met in my life. She couldn’t see the life she has now from the life she had before, and all it took was a lot of work and change. I could never see the relationship I have with my mom now from what we had before—from being taken away and moved 800 miles away to hearing from her every month to now talking to her every day. Recovery is one of the best things that has ever happened to me, and I’ve never struggled with addiction.”

Today, almost nine years after finding recovery, Washington empathetically and enthusiastically helps those who were once where she was. Dreams of living in Nicholasville on a horse farm with her daughter, fighting through the dark shadowbox while overdosing on fentanyl in an ambulance, rebuilding a mother-daughter relationship that had imploded from addiction—these things are emblematic of the all-too-familiar battle of frail humanity against the forces that work against us every day. By sharing her story with those struggling with addiction, Washington hopes that it can serve as an inspiration to those who have a hard time seeing past the immediate circumstances of their situation. Mothers suffering from the disease of addiction everywhere should know that finding recovery will be the best decision they’ve ever made for themselves and their families.

“I get to be my daughters’ mom,” Washington said.

Daphne and Kaylynn

Learn More

If you’re a mother suffering from addiction, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Landmark Recovery can help you turn your life around and get the addiction treatment you need today. Call 888-448-0302 to speak with an admissions specialist to learn about our treatment programs and how we specialize in helping mothers dealing with addiction. We want to help you unlock your potential.

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About the Author

Will Long

Will Long

A graduate of Middle Tennessee State University, Long has been a writer for Landmark Recovery since 2021. He specializes in research and writing about substance abuse from a scientific and social perspective. Unearthing information from underexplored, far-flung corners of the Internet, Long’s passion is finding emerging trends in substance use and treatment that the public should know about.